African American Literature: Suggested Reading Lists 


Ring Around The Moon
1998 Mary Burnett Smith

As an adult Amy revisits her childhood from the perspective of the period when she was a pre-adolescent and adolescent. During this period in her life, Amy observed the break-up of her parents' marriage. Amy also dealt with issues of hair, friendship and a growing awareness of the racial and ethnic divides that separated Westville. PA in the 1940's. Amy's father, Jack's, problems with alcohol and infidelity are sensitively explored in light of their effect on his marriage and family. If you enjoyed Sugar , you may like Ring Around the Moon.

The Known World 2003 Edward Jones

In the Antebellum South, blacks were also slave owners. 31 year old Henry Townsend, former slave, now owner of 33 slaves, is dying. What will become of his wife, his slaves and his 50 acres of land is the central theme of this story. Adding complexity to this hidden corner of history is the story of the affects of slavery on the 'known world" past and present. This novel illuminates the complicated history and relationships of free blacks, slaves, whites, Native Americans and the institution of slavery. Fans of Margaret Walker's Jubilee should enjoy this one.

4 Guys And Trouble 2001 Marcus Major

Four young men promise to look after their deceased friend's 24 y.o. sister who may not want to be looked after. An exploration of manhood and responsibility viewed through each friend's relationship with a significant women and his deceased pal's sister. An entertaining and contemporary melodrama spiced with social concerns. If you Carl Weber's Lookin' For Luv , you might enjoy Marcus Major.

A Taste Of Reality 2004 Kimberla Lawson Roby Anise has it all: marriage, job, and friends. Her perfect world begins to collapse---and she begins to lose it---promotion to a white colleague, husband to infidelity, and her best friend to a dangerous secret. Anise stays the course and secures what is most important to her. Fans of Nina Foxx's Dippin' My Spoon should like this one.

When Twilight Comes 2002
Gwynne Forster

A widowed matriarch and owner of a influential newspaper becomes ill and turns over the reins to her youngest child. Sibling rivalry, romance and intrigue follow. Readers of Tina McElroy Ansa's The Hand I Fan With should enjoy this one.

Leaving Atlanta 2002
Tayari Jones

This story reveals the paranoia and fear that spread through the African American community in Atlanta during the Atlanta Child Murders Crisis from the perspective of three fifth-graders. The ten year old narrators, classmates of two abducted children, are savvy, smart and naive all at once. Their fear of abduction mingles with their sharply described portraits of normal grade school assurances and anxieties. if you enjoyed Loving Donovan's multi-faceted story-telling, this might be the book for you.

Satin Doll 1999
Karen Quinones Miller

Regina Harris is shot and beaten. She decides to change her life after years of living on the fringes of Harlem. She finds a life and a love, but will the dark secrets in her past threaten her future? Lots of drama as Regina navigates a path through her past in the hood and her future in the public eye with her aspiring politician new love. Readers of Gloria Mallett's Shades of Jade should enjoy this one.

Some Things I Never Thought I Would Do 2003
Pearl Cleage

Out of rehab and out of money, Regina reluctantly finds employment with her deceased ex-boyfriend's mother. Determined to keep her job despite the turbulent relationship with her employer, Regina finds herself beginning a magical relationship with her new landlord. Who is this charismatic figure, a sometimes blues singer, and what does he have to do with her life? If you liked Alice Walker's In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women , you might enjoy this offering.

Love 2003
Toni Morrison
Love, money, obsession, and magical realism combine in this tale about the 1940's at Upbeach, a popular ocean resort owned and operated by Bill Cosey. Two feuding women, his widow and his granddaughter, their relationship to and obsession with Bill, dominate this exploration of love and hate. If you enjoyed Sugar , you will like Love.

The Intuitionist 1998
Colson Whitehead

Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector with a flawless inspection record, collapses while battling the good old boys. Inexplicably, #11 in a building goes into free fall---just after Lila Mae signed off on it. Lila uses the controversial "intuitionist" method of elevator safety assessment. Empiricists vs. Intuitionist, metaphors for social philosophies. Lila Mae must exonerate herself in this story where 21st century technology collides with 19th century politics. If you enjoyed Tananarive Due's The Good House , you'll enjoy this one.

Getting Mother's Body 2003
Suzan-Lori Parks

Billy Beede is poor, unmarried, pregnant and 16, the daughter of dead blues singer, Willa Mae Beede. Willa Mae is rumored to have been buried with a fortune in jewelry. Now a supermarket is going to be built over her final resting place, and Billy must struggle with Willa Mae's close friend to recover her mother's body. What secret is also buried with Mother's body? Reader's of Aishah Rahman's memoir, Chewed Water , may enjoy this one.

Midnight Robber 2000
Nalo Hopkinson

This selection is melding of science fiction and magical realism. Tan-Tan's father, originally from the Caribbean-colonized, high-tech planet, Toussaint, and mayor of Cockpit County, must flee with her to the primitive alternate universe of New Half Way Tree. Here, in New Half way Tree, the mythical (in Toussaint) figures of Carnival and folklore are real. In New Half Way Tree, Tan-Tan must find a way to set herself free. Fans of Octavia Butler's Wild Seed , Nalo Hopkinson is fast becoming a sci-fi favorite.

Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers 2000
Ed., Kevin Young

Billed as the "black psychic hotline" or the future of African American writing, Giant Steps features a cross section of newer, younger writers. This anthology highlights the both the direction and diversity of writers in the African American literary tradition. Poetry, fiction and non-fiction in bold new directions. If you are a fan of Step Into A World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature , this one will excite you also.

The Dying Ground: A Hip Hop Noir Novel 2001
Nichelle Tramble

Maceo Redfield, ex-baseball star and college drop-out, is confronted with the murder of a childhood friend, Billy. The trouble is Billy was a drug dealer, and the prime suspect is Felicia, Billy's girlfriend and Maceo's ne'er forgotten first love. Dealers, players, betrayal and urban grit combine as Maceo works to resolve the mystery of his friend's murder. Fans of Sister Souljah's The Coldest Winter Ever will like this 1989-era, Oakland-based story.

A Little Piece of Sky October 2000
Nicole Bailey-Williams

A story of survival and healing. Song Bird survives abuse and abandonment to emerge triumphant A refreshing look at a young person who refuses to be a victim. If you enjoyed The Color Purple , you'll like this one.

The Portable Promised Land July 2002

A collection of stories edged with magical realism. A whimsical look at post- modern African American life and culture. There are short stories here ("Steviewondermobile" "A Hot Time At the Church of the Kentucky Fried Souls") as well as tone poems and an Afrolexicology. Colorful, comic. Fans of Ntozake Shange's Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo may like this one.

Drop September 2000
Mat Johnson

An Afrrican American ad designer travels to the U.K. and back. A tragic turn in his life forces Chris to abandon his London career and existence and return to West Philly. Back in Philly he must reconcile his ambition with the reality of his new temporary job at the electric company providing the needy benefits and the return to his roots. Readers of Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man may enjoy this selection.

Resurrecting Mingus February 2001
Jenoyne Adams

A young, succesful attorney who is the product of a biracial marriage attempts to avoid the mistakes her parents experienced. Along with a troubled relationship with an older sibling and a complicated love life, the novel attempts to explain and evaluate her family's relationships and what it means to have a biracial heritage. If you enjoyed Toni Morrison's Tar Baby , you may want to sample this one.

The Flip Side of Sin April 2001
Rosalynn McMillan

An ex-jazz musican/journalist recently released from prison following a drunk driving conviction that left a young white woman dead, attempts to restore his relationship with his wife and son. Complicating his problems is the fact that his wife is now a policewo-man and his son is a gangbanger. The central theme here is forgiveness. For those who enjoyed Valerie Wesley-Wilson's When Death Comes Stealing.

Gumbo October 2002
Edited by Marita Golden/E.Lynn Harris

A literal literary rent party. A collection of short stories and excerpts from novels featuring such knowns as Walter Moseley, Gloria Naylor, Jewelle Gomez. A literary project to benefit the Hurston/Wright Foundation so you'll encounter some young, new, or emerging authors in this collection. Fans of The Oxford Colection of Caribbean Short Stories should enjoy this one.

The Future Has A Past October 2000
J. California Cooper

J.California Cooper returns to short stories in this outing. In this group of stories, the themes of poverty, single motherhood, and inexperience are handled with the same grace and charm of her other stories. Fans of Zora Neale Hurston should check out this one.

Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy August 2002 Bertice Berry

This middle-aged couple transform thier love life with the information gleaned from the ancestors in Louella's dreams. Not only is their realtionship revitalized, but other miraculous events take place in their small community. Smart, sexy, spiritual all at once. Those who enjoyed Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day should try this one.

Details At Ten September 2000
Ardella Garland (Yolanda Joe)

Yolanda Joe turns her hand to mystery fiction. Georgia Barnett, a television producer, joins forces with Detective Doug Eckart to solve a young black girls' disappearance. Based in Chicago's Southside, this story offers a glimpse of a reporter straining to balance reporting the news with navigating gangland territory while knowing your employers aren't interested in this particular pursuit of justice. If you've read and enjoyed Charlotte Carter's Drumsticks featuring Nanette Hayes, you'll like this one from Ardella Garland.

Do Or Die: A Mali Anderson Mystery July 2000
Grace Edwards

Set in Harlem, Mali Anderson, a former police ofiicer, wrongfully dismissed, strolls us through Harlem solving murders in an unconventonal style that upsets her family, friends and especially her boyfriend, Detective Tad Honeywell. In this installment, Mali must solve the murder of Starr, who survived drug abuse and a brush with prostitution to become a jazz singer and is now a murder victim. A nice one for fans of Done Wrong by Eleanor Taylor Bland.

The Fisher King October 2000
Paule Marshall

A tale of two close knit families who reconcile a rupture in the past through eight year- old, bilingual Everett, named for his deceased jazz musician grandfather. Everett who is the common relative to both families returns to America from France to unite the families once again. If you've read and enjoyed Rosa Guy's The Sun, The Sea, And A Touch Of The Wind , you may like this one too.

If 6 Were 9 January 2001
Jake Lamar

Writer Clay Robinette retreats from the hazards of journalism into the haven of academia, marriage and fatherhood. A short affair with a student who is later found dead brings this idyllic existence to a halt as Clay becomes the prime murder suspect. Reminiscent of Blair Walker's Hidden In Plain View.

Young Adults

Asha Bandele

Miriam's daughter, Aya, is killed by police as the result of mistaken identity. Miriam has been a single mother who always struggled to give her the best of care. The story is told in flashbacks that are both graphic and chilling.

Money Hungry
Sharon Flake

Thirteen year old Raspbery is obsessed with making money in order to avoid having to live on the street.

A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 Diane McWhorter

Focuses on civil rights events that took place between the Brown vs Board of Education case (1954) and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (1968).

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives
Forward by Henry Gates

Accounts of slavery as told by American slaves in their own words.

How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea
Eloise Greenfield

Biographies of notable African Americans fromt he American Revolution to the present.

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Christie King

Looks at the early life of Martin Luther King, Jr. as told by his older sister.

Shooter Walter Dean Myers

Using interviews, newspaper articles and excerpts from a diary, the author weaves a tale around a shooting rampage at a school and its impression on the principal character, Cameron.

Older Children

And the Winner Is
LL Cool J

A young basketball players learns how to win and lose gracefully.

Circle Unbroken Margot Theis Raven
A grandmother preserves her African heritage by telling tales of Gullah culture and the sweetgrass baskets that they make.

The Education of Mary: A Little Miss of Color
Ann Rinaldi Prudence Crandall enrolls black girls in her elite Conneticut School which results in scandal that leads to her imprisonment.

Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories A biography of the famous African American artist, Romare Bearden and his work.

Skull Talks Back
Adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas

A collection of scary tales as collected by Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston

Joe Louis - My Champion William Miller
Inspired by the great boxer Joe Louis a young boy dreams of becoming a boxer, only to realize he can be whatever he wants to be.

Bubber Goes To Heaven Arna Bontemps
Ten year old Bubber dreams he has gone to heaven but has trouble trying to fly with his new wings.

Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis Ten year old Bud escapes a forster home and searches for the man he believes is his father.

I , Too, Sing America
ed. Catherine Clinton
Three centuries of African American poetry with illustrations.

Journey to Freedom
A series of books offering biographies of famous African Americans, information on the 1963 March on Washington and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World
Mildred Pitts Walter Ten year old Justin thinks that cleaning house is women's work until he spends time on a farm.

The Talking Eggs
San Souci
Following the instructions of an old witch, Blanche gains riches, while her greedy sister makes fun of the old woman and suffers the consequences.

Trapped Between the Lash and the Gun
Arvella Whitmore

In this time travelling story a young boy who is involved with gangs is brought back to the days of slavery.

Young Children

Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock Eric A Kimmel The spider Anansi gets a taste of his own medicine after he tricks the animals in his village by showing them a moss covered rock. Big Jabe Jerdine Nolan A story about a young man who helps slaves on the plantation by doing special things for them. Black Mother Goose Mother Goose A collection of well known nursery rhymes illustrated with Black children. The Black Snowman Phil Mendez A magic piece of kente cloth brings a snowman to life and helps young Jacob discover the beauty of his black heritage as well as his self worth. A Bus of Our Own Freddi Williams Evans Mable Jean and the other black children who walk five miles to school, find a way to get a bus for them like the white children have. D J and the Zulu Parade Denise Walter McConduit Join 7 year-old DJ as he experiences the excitement of being a page to the queen of the Zulu parade. Don't Say Ain't Irene Smalls Attending a school that is just the opposite of her every day environment is causing a young girl problems. Everett Anderson Nine Month Long Lucille Clifton A small boy and his family anticipate the birth of their newest member. The Hickory Chair Lisa Rowe Frastino The grandmother of a blind boy is his warm companion and leaves an equally warm gift for him after her death. The Jazz of Our Streets Fatima Sheik Two siblings enjoy the fun of a jazz parade marching through their neighborhood. Leola and the Honey Bears Melodye Rosales An African American version of Goldilocks and the three bears Magic Gourd Baba Wagree Diabite' A greedy king gets a lesson in generosity and friendship from Brother Rabbit and Chameleon Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters John Steptoe Mufaro's two beautiful daughters, one bad tempered, one kind, go before the king, who is choosing a wife. Nappy Hair Caroliva Herron Various people at a backyard picnic offer their comments on a young girl's tightly curled hair. Rum A Tum Tum Angela Shelf Medearis A young girl notices the different sounds heard in a New Orleans market. Shortcut Donald Crews Children taking a shortcut walking along a railroad track find danger when a train approaches. The Story of Ruby Bridges Robert Coles ENF 370.19324 B851c First grader Ruby Bridges confronts hostility from white parents who don't want to send their child to school with her. Tar Beach Faith Ringgold A young girl dreams of flying above her Harlem home claiming all she sees for herself and her family. What A Truly Cool World Julius Lester A funny story on how God created the world and got his secretary Bruce and the angel Shaniqua to help. Why Mosquitoes Buzz In Other Peoples Ears Verna Aardema A funny African tale that explains how the mosquito began to buzz in people ears. Your Dad Was Just Like You Dolores Johnson While visiting his grandfather, Peter hears a story about his father's boyhood that helps him understand his father.